Modern Mystery

J.A. Jance brings J.P. Beaumont into the 21st century with 'Justice Denied'

During the two months that Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont had to take off work for medical leave, his office at the Special Homicide Investigation Team (the "SHIT squad") leapt into the information age.

Gone are the days of pawing through and loading up microfiche to track down cold-case stories. When he returns, J.P. just has to fire up his laptop and access LexisNexis, and "the whole world of cyber news and public records" opens to him. Any place, any time.

Which is convenient, because in this book, he's given an assignment he can't pursue from the office. It also gives writer J.A. Jance an opportunity to explore technology in police work and to prove that middle-age Beaumont is capable of being more than your father's detective.

South Dakota-born and Bisbee-raised Jance, who now divides her time between Seattle and Tucson, is proving herself no slouch when it comes to churning out entertaining reading. With three thrillers, 11 Joanna Brady mysteries and now 18 J.P. Beaumont procedurals under her belt, she's acquired an amusing tale-telling voice that presents convincing cop behavior and increased narrative complexity.

In Justice Denied, Beaumont is called in by his big boss, Washington State Attorney General Ross Alan Connors, to investigate the murder of an "innocence project" ex-con named LaShawn Tompkins. Released from prison when DNA testing showed he'd been falsely convicted of rape and murder, Tompkins had professed a religious transformation and life change when he was gunned down. For reasons he does not reveal to Beaumont, Connors wants Beaumont to pursue it totally "under the radar" of everyone he works with ... including Beaumont's love interest, Mel Soames.

Meanwhile, Soames herself has been working on another assignment from Connors: the cataloging of the whereabouts of sex offenders released from the Washington state penal system. When Soames discovers that several of those young ex-cons have died, she begins to wonder if the accidents that led to their deaths were, in fact, accidental. The threads of Beaumont's investigation seem to snag on Soames', and Connors puts another off-the-record employee on their job--a cowboy type with a doctorate in forensic economics--to help untangle them. Suspecting a rogue cop or someone else in law enforcement might be involved, Connors asks the team to work at home. That reveals that the secrecy of the Beaumont/Soames romance/cohabitation has been blown--and it brings a hotshot techie kid into their terrace-condo in-home office. Jance displays an acquired ease with police operations. First-person narrator Beaumont shares cop insights and tricks with the reader: how to see a possible domestic-violence situation; how to read the body language and attitude of former felons; what to look for at a homicide scene; and how to scope out such events as funerals. She recognizes and employs to her advantage the jurisdictional territoriality implicit in police work.

Jance injects a playful irony into Beaumont's attitude, as well as the book's character development and tone. Beaumont's a nicely faceted character who doesn't always take himself too seriously--especially since he's sobered up. The acronym for his Special Homicide Investigative Team allows for a fair amount of joking as well, compounded by the fact that it's headed by a guy who goes by his whole name: Harry I. Ball.

To layer her narrative, Jance includes the requisite detective-novel subplots--such as troublesome romantic/family complications--with resonance that becomes thematic. In Justice Denied, the theme of parent-child relations takes a number of forms. First, Beaumont--reconciled with a grandmother who'd been denied access because of his out-of-wedlock birth--lovingly oversees her end-of-life care. Coincidental to that, his own grown daughter begins pitching fits about his "irregular" living arrangement. It turns out in this book that there are lots of ways to parent. And to "partner."

In addition, this book deals with domestic and sexual abuse, along with Jance's recurring motif of alcoholism. The title suggests thwarted attempts to exact retribution. Other elements need only to be suggested because of the 20 years of baggage that Beaumont brings with him: a boatload of personal and professional history that includes guilt, loss and betrayal, much of which he carries some responsibility for. You see some wisdom in Beaumont when he observes that love in middle age requires a recognition that one "can't change the past," so you might as well live in the present.

Which he does, very nicely, with the tools of the 21st century at his fingertips.